The Briefing 04-24-15

The Briefing 04-24-15

The Briefing


April 24, 2015

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


It’s Friday, April 24, 2015.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) Arrest of ‘Flash Crash’ instigator exposes critical need for trust for economic success

Most of us go about our everyday lives without much concern for exactly how the economy works, in particular exactly how the financial markets and the commodity markets work. Most of us will go through our day without much conversation or thought about what keeps the economy going and what could lead to a meltdown or a significant disruption in our economic lives – not just those of people on Wall Street on the Chicago Board of trade and elsewhere. That’s why the headline that appeared all over the world yesterday really has the attention not only of investors but should, from a worldview perspective, have the attention of all of us.

The headline in USA Today yesterday: Traders Arrest Spooks Investors. Reporter Kaja Whitehouse for USA Today gets right to the point when she writes,

“The arrest of a London trader who allegedly helped cause the 2010 Flash Crash isn’t boosting investors’ confidence. It’s spooking them.”

Billionaire entrepreneur Mark Cuban said,

“If this one random guy could impact billions of market value in seconds or milliseconds, what’s going on?”

Cuban went on to say,

“If a guy in his underwear can manipulate markets, anybody can. The optics look really, really bad,”

We go about our everyday lives without much thought to the fact that there is an enormous amount of financial infrastructure, and behind that infrastructure is an enormous amount of technology, and behind that technology is an enormous amount of trust.

The most important economist in Western history was Adam Smith, and Adam Smith was operating out of a Christian worldview. He pointed out that economies happen when one individual comes to the conclusion that he or she cannot meet all of his or her own needs and then has to turn to someone else. At that point some economic transaction takes place. The one individual trades something that he or she has for something that is more desirable, or perhaps more needed or necessary at the moment. You start adding up all those individual transactions made by economic agents and you end up with a massive global economy now numbering in the billions.

But we are not doing face-to-face business with most people; nonetheless we are embedded in an economic web with them. And what this new disclosure makes very clear is that there are vulnerabilities beyond the imagination of even the people who thought they had regulations and protections in place. Mark Cuban points to the problem when he looks back to the 2010 ‘Flash Crash’ – and let me just remind you, in a matter of milliseconds the Dow Jones industrial average plunged nearly 600 points; that means that in terms of milliseconds, as financial transactions are now done electronically, hundreds of billions of dollars of value were wiped out.

That’s one of those absolutely mind-boggling realities about the contemporary economy. We turn on lights switch and we expect the lights to come on. We go to the gas station and we expect to be able to buy gas. We go to the supermarket and we expect food to be available in the aisles. We expect when we swipe our credit card that the transaction will go through. We expect that when we put money in the bank that money will be safe. We expect that when we look at financial returns that come in printed forms, or when we check our accounts online, we trust that there’s actually money behind those numbers. But how do we actually know? The point from the Christian worldview is this: you cannot have an economy without trust.

That goes back to Adam Smith with just those two individuals; those two individuals cannot have a thriving economic relationship if they do not trust one another. And back in the day when most economic transactions were face-to-face, we can pretty much judge whether or not the individual with whom we presume to do business was going to be trustworthy or not. We are now living in a global economy and that trust is now extended not only to billions of people far flung across the planet, that trust is now also extended to digital technology that evidently has massive vulnerabilities.
That’s why Mark Cuban was speaking of this guy in London, who evidently truly in his underwear, manipulated the market’s leading in milliseconds to the loss of hundreds of billions of dollars of value. The market recovered, but as the financial reports make very clear no one is sure exactly why. We should just be thankful that that flash crash back in 2010 didn’t become an enormous market crashes as happened in 1929, it didn’t become the kind of recessional crash that happened in 2007; otherwise we would be having a very different conversation.

But right now the conversation is this, and is not just billionaire entrepreneurs like Mark Cuban who are having the discussion. It made the front page not only of the Wall Street Journal, but it made the front page of USA Today, asking the question: if one man in a middle-class house in London in the middle of the night, not even wearing his business clothes, can crash the market, then just how safe are we? Oh, you know the answer to that question. We’re not actually as safe as we might want to be. It goes back to the fact that the market is a moral reality and it’s the Christian worldview that underlines why. It’s because God made as moral creatures. He also made his economic creatures, but it’s the Christian worldview that affirms that it’s morality that makes economics possible – it’s not the other way around.

And so the short answer to the question, ‘how is it that a man in his boxer shorts in London can crash the market?’ the short answer that question is: it’s because our first mother and father ate of the fruit of a tree that had been forbidden. In the final analysis, it is still all about sin and its effects – now writ large in a very strange set of headlines in the world press yesterday.

2) Chinese scientists manipulate human genome in attempt to redefine the species

Next, a truly ominous headline that appeared early yesterday in the international press; the dateline is China. Rachel Feltman, reporting for the Washington Post tells us,

“In March, a rumor surfaced in the scientific community that was intriguing, and perhaps a bit chilling: According to those in the know, researchers in China had successfully edited the genomes of human embryos, altering their DNA in a way never accomplished in our own species. MIT Technology Review reported on the murmurings that someone had altered the germ line — the genetic information that come together and form something new when eggs and sperm collide. Even unconfirmed, those rumors led to a lot of debate about the potential downsides of altering the germ line.”

Now the Washington Post says, we know the rumors were true. The issues behind this headline are absolutely enormous. We’ve been watching this bioethical revolution take place before our eyes and we need to know exactly what is being attempted here. What’s being attempted is the redefinition of the human species. From a Christian and biblical worldview perspective it is hard to imagine anything that is more challenging because we’re talking about the creature trying to redefine himself. That’s exactly what we’re looking at here. Now we also need to understand that this is being done in the main in the name of addressing certain genetic diseases. That’s what’s being presented.

David Baltimore and his colleagues, who sounded the alarm in recent weeks – you’ll recall that he’s a Nobel laureate himself – stated the fact that there are indeed hopes that some of these germline therapies may eventually prove very effective in dealing with certain genetic diseases. But even Nobel prize winner David Baltimore and other scientists were trying to sound the alarm saying, ‘but at what cost?’ And the biggest ethical issue here, most immediately, has to do with the fact that when you change the human germline you are making genetic changes that will last so long as humanity lives. In other words, those genetic changes will be passed on from generation to generation.

There has been, in terms of the worldview of bioethics even in the secular world, an understanding that we bear responsibility not to pass on any genetic modification that would be negative in any sense to the next generations and then to generations following. But the article that appeared early yesterday makes very clear that in China the rumors of those experiments turn out to be absolutely true. And as we now know from the report that came yesterday, the experiment – in the eyes a scientist – was not a success.

Don’t take any relief from that because in one sense it doesn’t matter morally whether the experiment was a success or not simply because almost every major scientific effort has begun with failure and it will move on to subsequent experiments that may indeed one day be successful. There’s another reason not to take any solace or hope from the failure of this experiment, it is because the failure itself came with a horrific moral cost. I read to you from the Washington Post article,

“The team injected 86 embryos and then waited 48 hours, enough time for the CRISPR/Cas9 system and the molecules that replace the missing DNA to act — and for the embryos to grow to about eight cells each. Of the 71 embryos that survived, 54 were genetically tested. This revealed that just 28 were successfully spliced, and that only a fraction of those contained the replacement genetic material.”

One of the scientist said,

“If you want to do it in normal embryos, you need to be close to 100%. That’s why we stopped. We still think it’s too immature.’

Well that’s a bit like opening Pandora’s Box and then trying to close it. What we’re looking at here is important at so many levels. One is the source of the story. It is coming from China; that should be an alert to us that there are parts of the world in which there are virtually no ethical, legal, or moral qualms about moving ahead with the intentional genetic modification of the human species. That in itself is a very chilling reality. And then we are told that without evidently any opposition from the Chinese government there were those who went ahead with these experiments.

And note also the cost to human dignity in the experiment itself. We’re talking about the specific creation of 86 embryos. Notice the word dismissing from that: human – 86 human embryos. That is, according to the Christian worldview, 86 human beings who were the sources and the objects of scientific experimentation. And then you look at the numbers – 71 of them survived, that means that 15 did not, 54 those were genetically tested, only 28 were successfully spliced. You’re looking at the destruction of these human embryos after they were specifically created merely for the purpose of being used in scientific experimentation. We’re looking at the Brave New World taking shape right before our eyes.

George Daley, a stem cell biologist at the Harvard Medical School, told the journal Nature,

“I believe this is the first report of CRISPR/Cas9 applied to human pre-implantation embryos and as such the study is a landmark, as well as a cautionary tale,”

He concluded,

“Their study should be a stern warning to any practitioner who thinks the technology is ready for testing to eradicate disease genes.”

What is truly significant in those words is this: here you have someone even operating from a secular worldview, teaching in a secular university, operating medicine as a secular discipline, who says the moral issues at stake are simply massive and it would be wrong to continue with this kind of experimentation on humans. The question is, will anyone hear? They didn’t listen to David Baltimore; they did listen to warnings that have come in recent months, years, weeks, and even decades, in all likelihood they’re not going to listen now.

3) Tendency of media to celebrate violence result of allure of sin in fallen world

Next, as we think about human beings as a moral creature, there is a very interesting article that appeared also in yesterday’s edition of USA Today. This is in the media column by Rem Rieder. He asked the question, ‘what’s is the allure of the violent graphic images that are now coming to us by groups such as the Islamic state?’ But readers actually asking a question that has to do with his own newspaper and its website again, again we’re talking about the newspaper that calls itself America’s newspaper: USA Today. And he asked a question, ‘why do we watch?’ He goes on to ask,

“What is the allure of reading about and looking at images of hideous behavior, unspeakable violence, deeply disturbing reminders of man’s inhumanity to man?”

He then reports about his own paper,

“On Sunday and Monday, USA TODAY‘s most popular digital article, on both mobile and desktop, was a story headlined, ‘ISIL video purports to show killing of Ethiopian Christians.’ The story did not include the 29-minute video released by the Islamic State, but it did include images from the video showing armed Islamic State members marching the Christians to their deaths.”

He goes on to say,

“[This is] Important news, to be sure. A big story, no doubt. But why?”

It should be very interesting to us that the media reporter for a major American secular newspaper is asking such a profound question. Why did the readers of USA Today online, on both mobile and desktop editions, seem to go to this article more than any other? But then the question even behind that raised by Rem Rieder is this: why do so many people go beyond even the print edition or the online edition in terms of using words to report these horrifying stories? Why do so many people seem to want to go and watch the videos themselves?

Rem Rieder is asking the question, what does this tell us about human nature?And it’s really interesting that this appears in USA Today in yesterday’s edition. According to Rem Rieder it should tell us something, in his words, that “barbarity gets clicks.” Indeed it should tell us something. And from the Christian worldview it probably tells us something rather complicated. It certainly tells us that we are sinful creatures; it tells us that we have an imagination that seems to be inclined towards an interest in wrongdoing and evil. This is something that we do need to recognize is a rather complicated picture.

You look in terms of the fact that for instance there is an enormous market for films of vulgarity and violence, and that tells us something very disturbing about ourselves. And one of the most interesting things in Rem Rieder’s article is the fact that, as he says, Hollywood has figured out that Americans don’t want a lot of serious stories but the stories they want should include a lot of manufactured violence. Americans it turns out are keen to go to movies and are very likely to watch entertainment in which violence is taking place if they believe that the violence looks realistic but isn’t actually real.

I think we can safely assume that the people who are right now being threatened by the sword of Islamic state are not interested in clicking when it comes to the videos, and certainly aren’t interested in watching videos or movies of manufactured realistic, but not real, violence. It does indeed say something about us as a human species that we seem to be drawn to these very horrific stories in such a way that we almost can’t turn our had from. And at that point, again the biblical worldview comes in to remind us that the Bible itself is sometimes very explicit about reporting violence to us.

The Bible is sometimes very explicit in terms of the inerrant and infallible word of God, in telling us details that in another context we might think we could’ve done without – evidently God wanted us to have those details. The Bible presents human evil in a very realistic manner, but never in an enticing manner. The Bible presents the reality of human sinfulness in reality. It is indeed not only realistic, it is real. But the Bible never intends to tempt us to find any celebration whatsoever in human evil, in human sin, and in human wrongdoing. There we see, in the mirror relief of the modern media, something that the Bible has warned us about all along – it is the allure of evil. It is indeed, as we read even the book of Genesis, that temptation crouches at the door. Sometimes it crouches in the form of a movie, sometimes it crouches in the form of a link to be clicked or to be ignored, sometimes it comes in the form of a video, and sometimes it comes even in the form of a news story. We may read it in order to be concerned about those Christians who are threatened at the point of the sword or it could be read as simply some kind of enticement to imagine an evil context in its horrific reality and its violence.

It should probably tell us something, by the way, that the development of the modern murder mystery, the modern detective story, grew out of the Christian worldview. The fact that these detective stories, many of the most famous detectives in certainly English literary history, emerged from Christian writers who intended to show the reality of human evil, and for that matter, the reality of God’s moral law by the context of the literary device of the murder mystery or the detective story.

Ralph McInerney, a philosopher who taught for many years at the University of Notre Dame, pointed out that in one sense only a Christian can write a good murder mystery. But for the Christian to write the good murder mystery, murder must be shown in all of its sinfulness, never in any enticement. That a balance for any writer to strike, it’s evidently a balance for any reader to strike. Evidently is a challenge for all of us, even as we merely watch the evening news. This article from Rem Rieder in USA Today reminds us to ask the question, not only what do we watch but why do we watch what we watch?

4) Scalia tribute to Ginsberg asserts value of learning from those who disagree with you

Finally, the current cover story of Time magazine is its annual issue of the 100 most influential people in the world. And one of the things you should keep in mind when you see a list like this is that whatever the magazine claims, this almost assuredly is not the list of the 100 most influential people in the world. And the one of the proofs of that is that Time does this just about every year and it’s a different list. They’re looking for people that will catch our attention and they are looking for a way to catch our attention as they talk about people who are undoubtedly among the most influential people in the world.

But the interesting thing this year is the approach that Time magazine has taken in providing these short articles about what they claim are the 100 most influential people on planet earth. It is because they did something rather unexpected; they asked people who would be in worldview disagreement with the people that their writing about to write the articles that appeared in this week’s edition of Time magazine.

An example of that fact is that one of the people that is cited here as being amongst the most influential 100 people on the planet is Thomas Piketty, the economist whose work on capital in the 21st century came from the far left and basically changed the debate over inequality in economics –especially when it comes to the most influential circles in the United States. What’s really interesting is that the article about Thomas Piketty is written by Grover Norquist, someone who comes from the far right in terms of a libertarian conservative economic model. And Grover Norquist, writing about Thomas Piketty, points out one man with one book changed the conversation. Grover Norquist very much more identified with Republicans than Democratic candidates says that Thomas Piketty’s influences is seen in the fact that even Republican presidential candidates in the 2016 cycle are going to have to make reference to his arguments as they deal with economic issues in the presidential campaign.

But to me, the most interesting of these articles by far was about the liberal Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the article about Justice Ginsburg was written by none other than the symbol of the right wing of the court, Justice Antonin Scalia. It is known that Scalia and Ginsburg have a friendship that goes across ideological and political lines on the court. It is understood that as couples, the Ginsburg’s and the Scalia’s, had developed something of a very warm relationship. And there’s an important lesson to us there from the Christian worldview, but a direct lesson is to be drawn from the words in the article about Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Antonin Scalia. Justice Scalia writes this,

“Having had the good fortune to serve beside her on both courts, I can attest that her opinions are always thoroughly considered, always carefully crafted and almost always correct (which is to say we sometimes disagree). That much is apparent for all to see.

What only her colleagues know is that her suggestions improve the opinions the rest of us write, and that she is a source of collegiality and good judgment in all our work.”

The Christian worldview would remind us that intellectual integrity means that we credit those who make us think better, even if, perhaps even especially if, they are the people who operate from a very different worldview and set of convictions than our own. It’s also often the case, and we should admit this right up front, that often are arguments, our language, and our expression, turn out to be better when we learn from and are corrected by those who are our adversaries even when it comes to very important arguments. It should tell us a great deal that on the United States Supreme Court when you’ve got nine justices, if you lined them up ideologically it’s hard to imagine there can be two justices further apart than Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia, and it is rather sweet and significant to see Antonin Scalia saying, ‘I’m a better justice because of the arguments made by Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the way she makes me a better jurist on my own.’

So the final word today, when it comes to developing the Christian worldview, is we can’t develop it in an intellectual bubble, we develop it in terms of contest and sometimes controversy – sometimes even argument with those who hold very different opinions. And that’s also why, as we are determined to develop a Christian worldview when it comes to these issues, we look to how the secular world is framing its arguments. That’s a very important exercise of developing a Christian worldview. And sometimes looking at the secular media we get the oddest lessons in the most unexpected form, as in this cover story in this week’s edition of Time magazine.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information go to my website at You can follow me on Twitter by going to For more information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary go to For information on Boyce College just go to Remember we’re taking questions for Ask Anything: Weekend Edition. Call with your question in your voice to 877-505-2058. That’s 877-505-2058.


I’ll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.


Podcast Transcript

1) Arrest of ‘Flash Crash’ instigator exposes critical need for trust for economic success

‘Flash Crash’ arrest shakes investors’ confidence, USA Today (Kaja Whitehouse)

2) Chinese scientists manipulate human genome in attempt to redefine the species

 The rumors were true: Scientists edited the genomes of human embryos for the first time, Washington Post (Rachel Feltman)

3) Tendency of media to celebrate violence result of allure of sin in fallen world

What’s the allure of graphic images?, USA Today (Rem Rieder)

4) Scalia tribute to Ginsberg asserts value of learning from those who disagree with you

The 100 Most Influential People, TIME

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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